Last month we shared an overview of how the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving is engaging in a range of public policy activity, particularly as it relates to our strategic focus of education. This important work provides us with an opportunity to bring the local and regional perspective to our state government as we help to ensure that children in our region are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten and prepared to succeed when they graduate from high school.
The 2014 session made some strong strides in helping address the enormous educational disparities in our area. The Foundation played a leadership role in the passage of critical early childhood legislation and is engaged in activity to support implementation of new education legislation and funding:
•Legislation to create the Office of Early Childhood (OEC). The OEC is a critical step toward increasing and sustaining quality and coordination of the array of services needed by young children and their families. The Hartford Foundation strongly supported this effort through our legislative activity, providing testimony, and our active participation in the Connecticut Early Childhood Funders Collaborative. In the coming months, we will continue to inform the OEC about the local and regional experience and innovations related to early childhood and, in collaboration with our philanthropic partners, promote and strengthen the capacity of the OEC to provide high-quality and more easily accessible services for children and families.
•Budget and legislation that moves Connecticut closer to the goal of universal access to preschool. The state’s School Readiness Program will be expanded to reach more children in our communities with a need for subsidized preschool programs. In addition, a new competitive grant program was passed, called “Smart Start,” which will provide financial incentives to school districts to establish additional preschool classrooms. The Hartford Foundation will work to bring together parents, providers and state and local education officials to understand Smart Start’s impact on local community and private early care providers.
•Significantly increased funding for K-12 education. The legislature approved a $28 million increase in education funding for Fiscal Year 2014-2015. This increase includes funding for Greater Hartford’s eight lowest performing school districts that have been designated as “Alliance Districts.” The Hartford Foundation K-12 education strategy is further supporting this public investment in our region by providing technical assistance and training opportunities to the Alliance Districts and a regional expansion of school-community-family partnership building.
•Two Generation Learning Initiative. This law requires the CT Commission on Children to develop a two-generational plan to promote learning and economic success for low-income families by addressing intergenerational barriers to school readiness and workforce readiness. Through the Foundation’s extensive support and experience in early childhood and family support, school-family-community partnership and adult literacy, and in collaboration with nonprofits in our region and state agencies, we will help to inform the development of the plan to benefit families and children in the Greater Hartford region.
Of course, there are always some disappointments.
A bill to address chronic absenteeism, a significant barrier to school readiness and success, was not taken up by the full legislature. We will continue to partner with Hartford’s Campaign for Grade Level Reading to raise awareness and bring solutions on this issue.
Over the coming months, we will work with policymakers, state agency leadership and our communities to support the implementation of new legislation in ways that reflect the need and experience of families and providers in our region and to share the learning from our new investments in local and regional early childhood system building, Greater Hartford’s Alliance Districts and school- family- community partnerships.
The bills that were passed are available here. (PDF).